Food & Consumer Safety
Symptoms of food poisoning can range from mild to severe and include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration. Most people recover from their illness, but for some the effects can be devastating and even deadly. If you think you have food poisoning or an allergic reaction to food, call your doctor or 911 if it is an emergency.
Causes of Foodborne Illness
Many microbes can spread in more than one way, so it’s not always clear if a disease is foodborne. More than 250 pathogens and toxins are known to cause foodborne illness, but the germs and some foods responsible for most foodborne illness include:
Escherichia coli (E. coli) are a diverse group of bacteria. Most strains are harmless, but some like E.coli 0157 can people sick. Some E. coli causes diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia and other illnesses.
Symptoms vary but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is not high (less than 101˚F/38.5˚C). Most people get better within 5-7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.
Infection happens by swallowing the bacteria from tiny amounts of human or animal feces. Exposures include consumption of contaminated food, unpasteurized raw milk, water that has not been disinfected, or from contact with cattle or the feces of infected people. Some foods carry such a high risk of infection with E. coli O157 or another germs it is recommended people avoid them completely, including raw milk, soft cheeses made from raw milk and unpasteurized apple cider.
Sometimes contact is obvious (working with dairy cows or changing diapers), but sometimes it is not (eating an undercooked hamburger or a contaminated piece of lettuce). People have been infected by swallowing lake water, petting zoos and and by eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands well after using the toilet. Almost everyone has some risk of infection.
Non-specific supportive therapy, including hydration, is important. Antibiotics should not be used and may increase the risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome. Antidiarrheal agents like Imodium may also increase that risk.
Salmonellosis is an infection from the bacteria Salmonella.
Most develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4-7 days, and most recover without treatment. However, diarrhea may be so severe in some to require hospitalization. The elderly, infants and those with compromised immune systems are more likely to have severe illness.
Usually contaminated food, water or contact with infected animals causes infection. Because thorough cooking kills Salmonella, people should not eat raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, meat or raw or unpasteurized milk or other dairy products. Produce should be thoroughly washed. Food may be contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler who did not wash properly after using the bathroom. Salmonella may also be found in the feces of some pets, and people can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with pets or pet feces.
Salmonella gastrointestinal infections usually resolve in 5-7 days and most do not require treatment other than additional hydration. Severe diarrhea may require intravenous fluids. Antibiotic therapy is recommended only for patients with severe illness (severe diarrhea, high fever, bloodstream infection or those who need hospitalization) or those at risk of severe disease or complications, including young infants, adults over 65 and the immunocompromised.
Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.
Fever and muscle aches sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms are common. Some also experience stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. Pregnant women typically experience fever and other non-specific symptoms, such as fatigue and aches. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
Most infections follow consumption of contaminated food. Listeria are killed by cooking and pasteurization. However, in some ready-to-eat meats like hot dogs and deli meats, contamination may occur after factory cooking but before packaging or even at the deli counter. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria can grow and multiply in some foods in the refrigerator.
Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. A person in a higher-risk category (pregnant woman, older adults and people with weakened immune systems) who experiences fever and other non-specific symptoms like fatigue and aches within 2 months of eating a contaminated food should seek medical care and tell the physician or health care provider about eating the contaminated food. If a person has eaten food contaminated with Listeria and does not have any symptoms, most experts believe no tests or treatment are needed, even for those at higher risk for listeriosis.
Vibrios are bacteria occurring naturally in estuarine or marine environments. Roughly a dozen species are known to cause disease in humans.
Vibriosis is characterized by diarrhea, blood, wound or other extra-intestinal infections.
Infection is usually from exposure to sea water or consumption of raw or undercooked seafood. Some illnesses can occur from exposing an open wound to contaminated seawater.
Treatment is not necessary in many cases. Patients should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost through diarrhea. In severe or prolonged illnesses, antibiotics can be used.
Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria Campylobacter.
Most people who become ill get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever within 2-5 days after exposure. Diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Illness typically lasts about one week, but some do not have any symptoms. Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes life-threatening infection in people with compromised immune systems.
Most cases are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination. Outbreaks are often connected to unpasteurized dairy products, contaminated water, poultry and produce. Animals can also be infected, and some people get infected from contact with the stool of an ill dog or cat. The organism is not usually spread from person to person, but this can happen if the infected person is producing a large volume of diarrhea. It takes very few Campylobacter organisms to make a person sick. Even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat can have enough to infect a person.
Most recover without specific treatment. Patients should drink extra fluids as long as diarrhea lasts. Antimicrobial therapy is only for patients with severe disease or those at high risk for severe disease.
Toxoplasma gondii is single-celled parasite causing a disease known as toxoplasmosis.
Most people who become infected with Toxoplasma gondii are not aware of it. Some people who have toxoplasmosis may feel like they have the flu with swollen lymph glands or muscle aches and pains that last for a month or more. Severe toxoplasmosis – which causes damage to the brain, eyes or other organs – can develop from an acute Toxoplasma infection or one that occurred earlier in life and reactivated.
Toxoplasmosis can occur from eating undercooked, contaminated meat (especially pork, lamb, and venison), drinking contaminated water or from contact with cat feces.
In an otherwise healthy person who is not pregnant, treatment usually is not needed. If symptoms occur, they typically go away within a few weeks to months. Medications are available to treat toxoplasmosis in pregnant women or people with weakened immune systems.
Preventing Foodborne Illness
Following a few simple steps can help keep your family safer from food poisoning at home.
- Clean: Wash hands and food preparation surfaces often. Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places around the kitchen, including hands, utensils and cutting boards. Clean utensils and small cutting boards with hot, soapy water and other surfaces with a bleach solution. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables carefully before cutting or peeling.
- Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate! Keep foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods when handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw and ready-to eat foods, and keep those food separate in the refrigerator.
- Cook: Make sure food reaches its proper temperature. Internal temperatures should be 145°F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating), 160°F for ground meats and 165°F for all poultry. See the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart for more info on cooking meats, poultry, eggs, leftovers and casseroles.
- Chill: Bacteria can double every 20 minutes in food at room temperature. The more bacteria, the greater chance of becoming sick. Refrigerate food quickly since cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. Thaw or marinate foods in the refrigerator – never on the counter or in the kitchen sink.
The Department investigates complaints of foodborne illness. If you wish to report a foodborne illness, call 260-449-7562 or submit a complaint through our online form. You can leave your name and contact information or remain anonymous. If you leave your name with the complaint, we will call you back and share our inspection results with you. The Department typically follows up on complaints within 1 business day.